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British Churches: Are US Forces Operating UK Drones?

Churches are calling for the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense to clarify its deployment of drones in Afghanistan after a defense committee report confirmed the likelihood that U.K. drones were being used by U.S. drone operators.

Leaders of the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain have backed a call made in the defense committee report, urging the Ministry of Defense to provide clarity on whether U.K. Reaper aircraft have been operated by U.S. personnel.

Issued March 25, the report from the defense committee said, “It is important that it is clear that U.K. aircraft have only been utilized within Afghanistan and always in accordance with U.K. rules of engagement.”

Steve Hucklesby, policy adviser for the churches’ joint public issues team, said, “The lack of accountability over civilian deaths from air strikes has been a serious concern in Afghanistan. U.K. and U.S. rules of engagement are likely to differ in some important aspects.”

“For example, the defense committee report states that the Royal Air Force does not fire missiles from drones unless there is a zero expectation of civilian casualties. Once you hand control of your aircraft to another military, you have no say in how they will be used,” Hucklesby said.

The United Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that in 2013 there were 182 civilian deaths from air strikes in Afghanistan.

Women and children comprised almost half of these deaths. It is not known how many of these deaths were caused by drones, or how many were a result of U.S. air operations as opposed to U.K. air strikes.

UNAMA suggests that the civilian death toll indicates the need for further review by international forces of pre-engagement considerations and precautionary measures.

“Although the Ministry of Defense discloses little in the way of information on the U.K. use of drones, it seems likely that our use of drones operates to a more ‘precautionary’ stance,” Hucklesby said. “However, it also appears that we then lend our aircraft out to others who operate to different standards.”

“The (Ministry of Defense) states that U.K. drones have not been used by the U.S. in Pakistan,” he said. “Nevertheless, it seems that we do permit the use of U.K. drones by U.S. forces with no accountability to the British public.”

A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times of Great Britain and is used with permission.